Estrogen hormone therapy, also known as hormone replacement therapy, is a common treatment for women during menopause. It involves the use of synthetic hormones to offer a woman's body the same protection from disease as estrogen. In the past, estrogen hormone therapy was considered to be safe. However, the Women's Health Initiative, which is a series of studies on estrogen hormone therapy conducted by the National Institutes of Health, revealed potential health risks for some women.
Estrogen hormone therapy involves giving women supplemental hormones to replace estrogen lost during menopause. As women reach the end of their child-bearing years, their estrogen and progesterone levels start to drop. These hormonal changes cause hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings and urinary problems. The purpose of estrogen hormone therapy is to stabilize a woman's hormonal levels and ease menopausal symptoms.
Estrogen hormone therapy can offer women protection from certain medical conditions such as osteoporosis. According to a study published in "The American Journal of the Medical Sciences," estrogen hormone therapy can reduce a woman's risk for vertebral deformities by 90 percent and hip fractures by about 50 percent. Several other studies, including one published in the "Journal of the National Cancer Institute," suggest that the long-term use of estrogen hormone therapy can significantly reduce a woman's risk of death from colorectal cancer.
There are different forms of estrogen hormone therapy. A doctor will prescribe a particular type of estrogen hormone therapy based on a woman's individual needs and symptoms. Estrogen hormones are available as tablets or pills. This therapy is also available as a patch to treat hot flashes. The patches have to be worn at all times and must be changed weekly. Estrogen vaginal tablets and creams are also options. Vaginal estrogen rings can offer relief from genital dryness and irritation.
Women who use estrogen hormone therapy are at an increased risk for certain medical conditions including cancer. Long-term use of estrogen can slightly increase a woman's risk for breast cancer. Women can avoid this risk by using this therapy for less than seven years. Estrogen hormone therapy also increases a woman's risk for uterine cancer. Doctors will often prescribe progesterone along with estrogen to eliminate this risk. Estrogen hormone therapy can also increase a woman's risk for heart disease, blood clots and stroke.
Some women who use estrogen hormone therapy experience mild to severe side effects such as breast pain, headaches and nausea. Other side effects include water retention, mood swings and bloating. A few women experience irregular bleeding during the first few months of estrogen hormone therapy. In many cases, the side effects are temporary, but if they persist, the physician may have to adjust the dosage amount. Women who experience unusual bleeding should follow up regularly with their doctor.